It seemed like a dramatic story that was going to drag on and on. There were times when it was just about finding the right contract — in both term and dollar value — but there were also times if felt like things were somewhat personal. Was this deal ever going to get done? Why was it taking so long? Could the rest of the NHL finally move forward now?
It took a while, but the Toronto Maple Leafs eventually worked it out with restricted free agent Mitch Marner, signing him to a six-year extension on Friday. As per multiple sources including, Elliotte Friedman and Darren Dreger, the deal was done and just shy of $11 million per season.
Marner Deal Took a Little Time
When the news broke on Friday, there was a catch. Dreger quickly pointed out after saying the deal was pretty much done, that it wasn’t official. His exact words were, “Negotiations at this level are always delicate until signed. No official agreement yet.”
Getting used to waiting, fans in Toronto, the media and the rest of Marner’s teammates needed to wait a bit longer. As the early evening rolled around, the deal became official. It took a lot less time than people might have assumed considering the issues that surrounded the deal leading up to this point.
Part of what might have sped things up was the changing feeling in Toronto around Marner and his public perception. When it was revealed he’d turned down a seven-year deal at $11 million per season, he didn’t have a ton of support from fans. GM Kyle Dubas told the media that he wouldn’t answer any additional questions about the deal until the terms were disclosed and a solution reached. That seemed to put a rush on things.
What Took Marner So Long?
Welcome to the new NHL where restricted free agents have a lot more power than they’ve arguably ever had in the league before. Marner’s deal, specifically, seemed to hold up most of the league. No team wanted to overpay their restricted free agent, while no restricted free agent wanted to take less than what they thought they were worth. For many, it meant waiting until Marner had signed on the dotted line.
Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas maintained that there was never a thought to move Marner, but you could tell things were getting a bit more complicated as the season crept closer. The Maple Leafs certainly didn’t want a repeat of last year when William Nylander missed much of the regular season, holding out for the best deal possible.
Toronto had offered Marner a number of options, he just wasn’t biting. Many believed he wanted to walk into free agency with more options, some figured he wasn’t ok with playing second-fiddle to Auston Matthews while others called the entire process strictly business. The deal is now done, and the city of Toronto can breathe a sigh of relief.
What Marner Brings to the Maple Leafs
Along with his hefty contract, Marner now offers the Maple Leafs a young winger who is probably only going to get better as he gets older. Just 22, he is coming off a career-best campaign that saw him score 26 goals, 94 points and lead the Maple Leafs in scoring for the second-straight season.
The Maple Leafs are banking those numbers will only go up. His 94-point effort in 2018-19 made Marner the 11th-highest scorer in the league in 2018-19, and the fifth-highest scoring winger. The deal now makes him the seventh-highest annual average salary in the NHL but the third-highest on his team. Between Marner, Matthews, John Tavares and Nylander, those four forwards make up about half the team’s available salary cap for the season.
There will, of course, be debate about the terms of the deal. That said, for the most part, fans are happy, the Maple Leafs are certainly happy and Marner must be happy now that he can finally get settled with the team over the long-term. He can put the negotiations behind him and move on as a Maple Leaf, trying to help the franchise win a Stanley Cup.
The Rest of the NHL Can Now Conduct Its Business
With Marner’s deal now done, expect big-name restricted free agents to sign behind him. Names like Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Tkachuk, Kyle Connor, and Patrik Laine still need deals. Many of them were waiting to see where Marner landed.
Now they know.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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